Inflammation of the Middle and Outer Ear Canal in Ferrets

By PetMD Editorial on Jun. 13, 2010

Otitis Media and Otitis Externa in Ferrets

Otitis media refers to an inflammation of the middle ear, while otitis externa refers to an inflammation of the external ear canal. Both of these terms are used to describe clinical symptoms and are not diseases in themselves. Otitis media and externa are rarely seen in ferrets, but typically occur in relation to ear mites or excessive ear cleaning.

Symptoms and Types

The most common symptoms of otitis externa and otitis media are pain, head shaking, scratching at the external ear flaps, and bad-smelling crust emanating from the ears. Although the presence of a red-brown or black crust is not detrimental in and of itself, the putrid smell may be an indication of a serious infection.


Otitis externa is often a secondary symptom of some other underlying disease, such as mites. Otitis media, on the other hand, typically occurs when a membrane in the ear has been ruptured, usually due to an extension of otitis externa or overaggressive ear cleaning. Excessive moisture from frequent cleaning can also lead to infection. In some cases, a neoplasm (an abnormal cluster of cell growth more commonly known as tumor) may be the cause.


There are two primary diagnostic procedures that should be done in cases of middle and external ear inflammation. First, an examination of the ear canal should be done. Second, a microscopic examination of the aural exudate (the crusted discharge from the ears) should be completed to determine the types of bacteria or yeast that may causing the condition. Additional diagnostic procedures include X-rays of the middle ear, and a urine analysis which may indicate a primary underlying disease causing symptoms.


Treatment for middle and external ear inflammation is generally done on an outpatient basis. A number of medications may be helpful, such as antibiotics to treat bacterial infection, corticosteroids to reduce swelling and pain, or topical ointments applied directly to the outer ear. If secondary bacterial or yeast infection is diagnosed, the external ear should be cleaned thoroughly on a daily basis during initial treatment. If a tumor has been detected, surgical removal may be necessary.


Living and Management

The ferret’s status should be monitored regularly after initial treatment. Infections within the ear canal can change with prolonged or recurrent therapy. It is also important to check for the development of secondary infections. Uncontrolled otitis externa can worsen and lead to otitis media or even deafness.


Avoid overzealous cleaning of the ear canal, which can lead to the development of otitis externa and/or media. In addition, be sure to treat and control underlying diseases (i.e. mites) that may lead to these two conditions.

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